In Defense of Collecting Community Ostracization or Don’t Let the Door Hit Ya…

In recent days, the words “cancel culture” seem to be on just about everybody’s lips. One has only to open any popular news site and there it is, in various […]

In recent days, the words “cancel culture” seem to be on just about everybody’s lips. One has only to open any popular news site and there it is, in various giant fonts and sizes, there for all and sundry to see: “It’s time to talk about Cancel Culture; Cancel Culture strikes again!; Cancel Culture comes for <insert random celebrity here>.”

The action figure collecting community is not immune to this particular movement; as our own colleague here at The Fanboy Factor, Chip Carroll, explained here, there is indeed an argument for the existence of this newly prevalent term in the collecting hobby. He elucidates, rather well, the how and who of cancel culture as relating to “scalpers” and “price-gougers” and he makes a decent point (and also writes pretty well). The merits, or lack thereof, as pertains to cancel culture isn’t something I’ll attempt here. Far better writers have made much better cases elsewhere; I’ll toss in a couple of pertinent links at the end of this most likely over-long and meandering article, if I may. What I’ll instead do here is pose a different question: is this really cancel culture in action, or just a community trying to rid itself of those who don’t respect it?

The internet houses in its inky depths countless multitudes of so-called “special interest” communities. Facebook alone has hundreds of millions of them, and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to quick search on Google and find staggering amounts of groups and forums and Discord servers. One in particular that I and many others use is the den of scum and villainy that is Reddit. For those unfamiliar, Reddit is essentially a massive internet forum, wherein specific forums called subreddits are dedicated to any topic one can think of; and a terrifying amount of things NOBODY should think of. The subreddits I’ll refer to in particular are r/actionfigures and r/toyexchange; the first is a place to discuss, well, action figures; the second, a place to buy, sell, or trade them (trading not advised).

Now, a quick bit of how-it-works on Reddit. On top of posting (pictures or links or whatever the hell you like) and commenting, any user can upvote, if they like a post, or downvote if they don’t. This reflects as a numerical value, hopefully, positive but sometimes not so much; it’s the internet, after all, so thick skin is a must. Now, Reddit itself has rules of course, and each subreddit also has its own set as well. Typically it boils down to: don’t be a jerk, keep on topic, don’t spam posts, etc. The moderators for these subreddits have the right and responsibility to smack down any transgressors. Typical interwebs forum stuff, really. The novel thing about Reddit versus other platforms is really the upvote/downvote function. No need to comment if you don’t wanna; just smack that arrow to show your feelings and move on. On r/ActionFigures, most posts are going to be of collections, posed figures, custom-made figures, and the ever-present and much-beloved/bemoaned retail hauls. These hauls especially are where the allegations of scalpery and greediness, real or perceived, tend to come into play; and this runs into somewhat dicey territory: that of the Unwritten Rule.

Baseball fans are of course familiar with this concept; don’t bunt during a no-hitter, don’t swing at the first pitch when the pitcher is struggling; there are almost as many Unwritten Rules in baseball as there are rules! The collecting hobby also has their own. For example: don’t take crappy grainy pictures and post them, don’t post other people’s stuff and claim it as your own, don’t be a jerk to retail employees, and most importantly, DON’T BE A SCALPER. This is a HUGE issue for the collecting community as a whole, and it’s very easy to see why.

Scalping is often considered to be intrinsic to the hobby of collecting. Somebody, somewhere, is going to find a popular item, buy as many of them as they can, and then flip them online to folks that actually want them. It’s kind of a capitalist microcosm if you will. The inherently greedy nature of this is one thing, but the effect on the community at large is another. Collectors hate when they can’t find what they’re looking for in their particular travels; what I and others call The Hunt. For lots of us, The Hunt is just as much fun as the collecting itself. When I was a GameStop slave-I mean, “associate”, I had folks come in all the time looking for certain things. If they were decent and friendly (be nice to your retail peeps!), I’d do my best to hook them up if I could, usually by holding something for them until they came in. Never for too long, mind you, but I was still trying to just be a good fellow collector. The ones that did take me on on my offer were always happy and thankful. I remember at least one guy, a regular customer, that said “Nah, I’m good.” When I asked him why, he said, “I like the thrill of The Hunt. If I miss out, oh well. It’s just a toy, I don’t NEED it. But hey, if I get lucky, it makes my day.” This, for me, was a powerful statement on what it means to be a collector. This guy got a good chunk of his enjoyment out of “the thrill of The Hunt”; the act of searching low and high for an elusive collectible and maybe, just maybe, succeeding. That alone was enough to sour me on the folks that make that next to impossible; the fact that this guy was a super nice dude helped as well.

There’s also the fact that a lot of these scalpers are collectors themselves, and members of the collecting community that they’re attempting to exploit. It’s bad enough when it’s some random dude who’s trying to make a buck off of somebody else’s passion; but if it’s a member of your community? Somebody who should know how much it sucks to not be able to collect what you’re looking for? That to me is much worse, and the community at large seems to agree. So it shouldn’t be entirely surprising to anyone when they post a picture on a collecting group of, say 13 incredibly hard to find GI Joe Classified Cobra Vipers, and then wonders why folks are being so mean and hurtful.  Posting up pictures of a “score” and then getting rightly lambasted is what happens when you spit in the eye of the community you’re supposedly part of. Add on to that charging a premium for an item whose scarcity you helped create? No wonder people are getting pissed. Now, for this example, there’s a whole other issue of Hasbro’s piss poor distribution, which is a different matter entirely. However, as I alluded to earlier, often these collectibles are hard to find because of these scalpers.

The point of being in an online community is to share one’s passions, to share one’s enjoyment, with other people who know what that feels like; so have the understanding of strangers and casual acquaintances who do and enjoy the same things as you. Yeah, there’s a good element of bragging in there, but collectors know that comes with the territory, and most of us don’t mind because we get to do it too. That shared sense of belonging, of camaraderie, of mutual respect, is what being part of a community, any community, is all about. When somebody throws up a picture in one of these groups of half a dozen Marvel Legends that nobody else can find, and says something like “Bout to make me some cash!” then frankly, they get what they deserve when it comes to scorn. I’m not saying these folks should get doxxed and have their social media scoured for proof of their villainy; as always, that is way WAY too far, and the rules of any decent online community will clearly state that such behavior is not acceptable in any way shape or form. If yours doesn’t, click that leave button and never look back

All that said, don’t be surprised when the response to posts about getting lucky and grabbing extra Ninja Turtles “just in case” in overwhelmingly negative. If you look like you’re scalping or trying to price gouge, people are going to call you out on it and they will NOT be NICE. If you’re grabbing those extras to sell online for what you paid plus shipping, instead of double and then some because “that’s what they’re going for eBay”? You’d be surprised at how much nicer folks can be, and at how often that sort of decency comes back around. People in these communities remember who gives them a good deal, or hooks them up when they absolutely don’t have to. Decency is repaid in kind, and these communities can be incredibly and brilliantly kind. Don’t believe me? Mosey on over to r/actionfigures and search for posts about a kid named Owen. Here’s how it started; and here’s another with just ONE of his MANY care packages.

It’s a PERFECT example of how important community can be. And that IS the point. If you’re part of a community and show it respect, it will respect you back. Price gouging and scalping are not showing anybody in the collectibles community respect, and it is well within the right of said community to show shame and distaste to these offenders. It isn’t “mob justice” or “cancel culture” at work; it’s what happens to somebody who breaks the agreed-upon rules and shows that they just don’t care.

I’m not saying that people on the internet don’t suck good chunk of the time; the anonymity of a keyboard and a computer screen turns lots of supposedly decent people into ravening madmen and vicious ideologues. Frankly, that’s just what comes with the territory. If one can’t handle the jerks on the interweb, one is better off sticking to, well… anything that’s not on the internet. Which of course is hard these days! So just beware, and maybe don’t buy ten of the same NECA Back to the Future pack and then put up photos on your favorite Facebook collecting group. Maybe just one ought to be enough to say “Check it out folks! I scored!”

Action figure collecting is by its very nature performative; the showing off of one’s collection serves not only as a kind of rite of passage amongst the wider collector community but is also essential to collecting. Being able to bring somebody into your space, either in person or over the internet, and pointing to your collection and saying, “Hey, check THIS out!” is, for me as well as other collectors, one of the absolute best things about the hobby. I get immense enjoyment out of when somebody walks into my apartment for the first time and sees just the magnitude of action figures, and Funko POPS, and miniatures and books and posters and all the other geeky junk that myself and my girlfriend collect and love. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a friend’s boyfriend when he walked into the trove that is my dining room/office space/unkempt dragon’s hoard, and he just looked around in wonder. I apologized for the mess, and he laughed loudly and said “Dude, I don’t look at this as a mess. This, this is PASSION. And I love it.”

You and me both, buddy. And nobody can cancel that.

Josh Hardin

About Josh Hardin

Josh Hardin is an overenthusiastic man-child from the dusty wilds of Reno, Nevada. He is a part-time warehouse worker, occasional college student, and a full time GEEK. He is often found in the company of his two cats, one dog, loving girlfriend, and massive amounts of action figures, miniatures, Magic cards, history books, and various swords both replica and real.